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Chapter 20:


Worldly Knowledge is Useless Without Self-Knowledge


Krishna taught in the Gita that once you acquire true spiritual knowledge your troubles, difficulties and sorrows all disappear.


Embodiments of Love,


As long as you identify yourself with your body, you will be exposed to countless problems and sorrows. The primary reason for having obtained your body in the first place, is to enable you to undergo the consequences of your past actions. This is your karma, the results of activities you have engaged in which have not yet fructified. Why did you accumulate this karma in the first place? Why did you engage in activities which bear consequences long into the future? The reason for karma is the desire or attachment you have for some things and the dislike or repulsion you have for other things. And what is the reason for this attraction and repulsion? It is because your mind is steeped in duality. You believe that this world is real and is filled with objects and things which are separate from you. But, where did this false view, this duality, come from? The reason for duality is your state of ignorance, the beclouding of your consciousness by a dark veil that covers the knowledge of your true reality.


The Light of Wisdom Dispels the Darkness of Ignorance


You have forgotten the fundamental unity of all beings. You have become unmindful of the divine basis of all things. You have lost sight of the atma, your real self. It is because of this ignorance that you experience so much grief and sorrow. If you want to be free of this darkness of ignorance, you have to obtain the light of wisdom. The only thing that can remove darkness is light. Similarly, the only thing that can remove ignorance is wisdom or spiritual knowledge. Ignorance has covered the knowledge of divinity and you are not able to perceive the truth. Just as the embers of a fire are covered by ashes, your light of truth has been covered by the ashes of ignorance and, therefore, you have not been aware of your own reality.


You may have the power of sight in your eyes but if there is a cataract covering the surface of your eyes, you will not be able to see. It is only after an operation is performed that you will be able to get your sight back. Similarly, it is only after a spiritual operation is performed and the cloud of ignorance is removed, that the sun of wisdom will shine freely. It is just like the sun's rays beaming into a room the moment you pull back the heavy drapes covering the window. The principle of divinity exists in everyone, so it is impossible for any person to be completely devoid of wisdom. There is no doubt whatsoever that, in time, the clouds of ignorance will be dispelled for all of humanity and the full light of wisdom will shine forth. All will realize their divine state.


When human life is infinitely expanded it becomes the one divine principle. Man plus infinity is divinity. When the human mind is expanded to infinity it becomes the divine mind, it becomes the creative principle which brought forth this universe. The atma, the self in man, and the divinity that dwells within him, are one and the same. Add infinity onto yourself and you become the divinity itself. You will have merged into the atma. Unfortunately, having become embodied, you have forgotten your divinity, your unlimited infinity. You are aware only of your limited individuality. If you want to attain your infinite reality, you must make an inquiry into the divinity which is inherent within you.


Atma Remains Unchanged, the Individual Changes


Consider a person who has built a house for himself. From the moment he completed the house he has been considering it as 'his' house. When he dies, the house goes to his heir, who then starts calling it 'his' house. Suppose, as time goes on, this new house owner becomes poor and has to sell the house to discharge his debts. Another person buys the house and begins calling the same house 'his' house. Now, who does this house really belong to? Does it belong to the one who constructed it, to the one who inherited it or to the one who bought it? There is no change in the house. In other words, the object remains as before. There is a change only in the persons who claim to own it. The house just continues to be there, but the claimed ownership undergoes repeated change.


In a similar way, there is the unchanging entity, the atma, which, like the house, remains unaffected by the countless owners who come and go. Each one claims personal ownership of this inner house which they call I. Each one believes the I to be their own personal self, but, in truth, it is the one, unchanging atma. And so this my-ness goes on constantly changing, but the atma which is being claimed as one's personal property, expressed every time one says I, remains unaffected by all these assertions.


Is there any medicine to cure this disease of I-ness or my-ness? Both the revealed and the written scriptures have declared that it is the mind which is responsible for this possessive nature. It has been said that along with the five senses of perception, the mind may be considered to be a sixth sense. But it is not just another sense equal to the other senses. In fact, it is the master of all the senses.


The Two States of the Mind, Pure and Impure


If there were no mind, neither the motor organs nor the sensory organs would be able to function at all. For all these various senses, the mind is in the position of the controller. It acts as the bridge to the inner life of the person. You may be in a lecture hall and your eyes and ears may be taking in all that is happening, but, if your mind is not there, if it were to wander off to your home town to think over some events going on there, you would not register anything which was taking place in the hall. Afterwards, you might question your neighbor, "What did the lecturer say? My mind was not here." What is the reason for your not hearing, although your ears are there? What is the reason for your not seeing although your eyes are there? The reason is the mind.


If your mind is absent, even if your eyes are here, you will not be aware of who your neighbor is; even if your ears are here you will not be aware of what is being said. The inner significance of this is that the mind is the master of the senses. All the senses should properly be subservient to the mind. When the mind is in a position of stillness, the senses will not be able to function at all.


The mind has two states. One is the impure mind, which is the thinking faculty, and the second is the pure mind, which is the seat of deepest feelings, experienced as the spiritual heart. When the mind allows itself to be subservient to the senses, it is impure. But, when the mind exercises control over the senses and follows the dictates of its highest inner knowing, it is pure. In other words, when the lower mind follows the buddhi, the higher mind, which knows the dictates of the heart, it is pure. Impure and pure are just aspects of the same mind. In its natural state, the mind is pure. Through the thinking process and its association with the senses, the mind becomes impure. Consider a small example.


The nature of a handkerchief is pure whiteness. The white color is natural to it. When you use the handkerchief it acquires dirt, and then you describe it as being dirty. After the washerman cleans it, you again think of it as a clean cloth. The dirty cloth and the clean cloth are one and the same. The same cloth, having acquired some dirt, has become a dirty cloth. Once the cloth has been washed and the dirt has been removed, it has become pure and you call it a clean cloth. You say that the washerman has made the cloth white. But really, he has not made it white; whiteness is its natural state. He has only removed the dirt. Similarly, when the mind absorbs impurities from the senses it can be described as an impure mind. But when the sense impressions have been removed and the mind is no longer turned towards the senses, it becomes pure again.


It is in this context that you can understand the meaning of these two states of the mind, pure and impure. When the mind is intimately associated with the senses it is impure. Then it is nothing but a bundle of thoughts; it can be conceived of as the process of thinking itself. In this process of thinking, revolving around duality and its polarities of attraction and repulsion, the mind gets dirty. It absorbs the impure impressions of the sense organs and becomes impure. At this point it does not have any specific form; it is merely the thing which thinks.


Give the Mind Some Peace - Turn it Towards God


When the lower mind is free of the dirt and impurities of the senses and is turned towards the higher mind, it again becomes pure. Higher mind is always aware of the inherent divinity. When you turn your mind to the divinity, you will be able to free it from all the troubles and sorrows associated with impure thoughts which arise from the impressions of the sense-organs. Therefore, you have to make every effort to turn your mind away from the senses and towards God. This can be described as meditation or yoga, union with God. This is the process whereby you cleanse a mind which has become impure, and again make it pure.


The mind needs a certain amount of peace. Just as the body needs rest, the mind needs peace. How can the mind get peace? It is only when you control the thinking process and slow the flow of thoughts that the mind gains some peace. The mind will always try to go out through the sense-organs toward various sense-objects. This then, gives rise to the thinking process. If you control this tendency of the mind to go outwards, and instead turn it inwards towards God, impure thoughts will diminish. Then you will be using the mind properly, and giving it some rest as well. This has been described as the yoga of constant inward-directed practice. Let us look at this further.


How to Cross the Turbulent River of Worldly Life


When you are traveling on a wide, powerful river, what is the most important knowledge you should possess? You should know how to swim. That comes first; that takes precedence over all other knowledge. If you go on a great river but do not know how to swim, however educated you may be, you run the risk of getting drowned. There is a story for this.


A highly educated scholar had to cross a wide river to attend an important meeting. The wind and the river current were going in opposite directions, so the journey was quite slow that day. Now, pundits have the habit of constantly talking, whether it is to themselves, going on repeating verses from the scriptures, or whether it is to anyone within easy earshot. On this particular day the boatman was quietly concentrating on steering the boat in the river. This pundit, who was the only passenger traveling in the boat, had no one else to speak to, so he started a conversation with the boatman.


"Do you know how to read and write?" the pundit asked. The boatman answered, "No, I don't know reading and writing."


"You seem to be quite a strange person," the pundit said, "In these days in every village the government has established schools, and you should know at least a little bit of reading and writing."


Just to while away the time, this pundit continued speaking to the boatman. Next he asked him, "Do you play any musical instruments?" The boatman answered, "Swami, I've had no chance to learn an instrument." "Well, do you know any of the latest popular songs?" asked the scholar. "No, I don't even know that," replied the boatman.


"What a strange person you are. In every street there is a movie house, and there are loud-speakers all around it playing the latest hits. And the radio broadcasts are filled with all the current pop recordings. Shouldn't you at least take a little of your income to buy a cheap transistor radio and listen to music?"


The boatman confessed, "I do not even know what a transistor is."


The pundit replied, "If in this modern age you don't even know about a transistor, you have wasted much of your life; at least a quarter of your life has been dumped into the water."


He asked the boatman another question, "Do you have a newspaper with you?" The boatman replied, "I don't have any education at all; what is the use of my having a newspaper, Swami?" The pundit went on, "Without having an education and without being able to read a newspaper, you've wasted even more of your life. At least half of your life has been dumped into the water."


After a few minutes the pundit asked again, "Do you have a watch? Can you tell me what time it is?" "Swami, the truth is I don't even know how to tell time. Then what is the use of my having a watch?" the boatman answered. The pundit rejoined, "Look at how much of your life has been wasted. If you don't have a radio to enjoy music, and you can't read a newspaper to find out what is going on, and you don't even know what time it is, then three fourths of your life has been dumped into the water."


Meanwhile a strong wind came up and it quickly turned into a powerful gale. The boat started swinging from side to side and the river was soon in full flood. The boatman could no longer maintain control of the boat. He asked the pundit, "Swami, do you know how to swim?" The pundit replied, "No, I never learned how to swim."


As he was about to go overboard, the boatman said to the pundit, "O Swami, what a pity! What a waste! You don't know how to swim? Now your whole life will be dumped into the water."


When you are traveling across a turbulent river, you should know how to swim. Without knowing how to swim, all your other knowledge of philosophy, physics, chemistry, botany, commerce, mathematics, political science, etc., will be of no use to you. In the journey of life, you are traveling on a rushing, unpredictable river, and you should know how to stay afloat and cross that river. To swim safely across the river of life, you must have the knowledge of the atma, and you must develop a strong power of discrimination, to know that which is useful and that which is useless for crossing this river. If you have not developed a capacity along these lines there will be no way for you to find fulfillment in life. You will drown in the river of worldly life.


External Freedom and Inner Freedom


As long as you base your life on wealth, property and worldly things, you will never be able to derive any real joy. There are two things which every person has to attain; one is external freedom, the other is inner freedom. External freedom speaks of independence, being free of external bonds and limitations. Inner freedom speaks of liberation from the bondage of the senses, having them under your full control. Every individual should realize both of these freedoms.


In the external world, as long as you are under the control of people who are unsympathetic towards you, such as some foreign king or ruler, you will not be able to get real joy. In the inner world, as long as you are a slave of the senses, then you will also not be able to enjoy real freedom. Even for the outer freedom, sense-control is important. But for becoming master of the inner world, the single most important faculty that you must develop is the control of the senses and thereby gain control over the mind. Once you have control of the mind you will be able to turn it away from the world and towards God. Then you will get real joy, both externally and internally, for then you will see the divinity everywhere.


Control of the mind and control of the senses is the victory that must be won by all human beings. Up to now you have been craving for different types of joys and pleasures; you go on uttering prayers for attaining happiness but you are not making any real effort to discover where that happiness is to be found. Krishna told Arjuna, "You are deluding yourself, believing that you can get happiness and peace in daily life. But, you won't be able to get real joy there. Sense-objects cannot give you the joy that you are seeking. It is only when you control your senses that you will be able to get peace and joy."


Whether you are a believer or a non-believer, you will have to gain control over your senses. Be the master of your senses. Do not allow them to get excited and run after sense-objects. When the senses get excited and you follow them, you will become weak and forget the Lord. Keep your senses under control and keep your mind firmly fixed on the Lord. Follow his teaching and directions. Without his grace your strength will leave you, and you will not be able to undertake any useful work.


You Need the Lord's Grace to Achieve Anything Worthwhile


As long as Arjuna had the blessings and the company of Krishna, he was a mighty hero and he was able to accomplish many heroic deeds. Once Krishna left his mortal body, Arjuna, through body consciousness and attachment, was overcome with sorrow and self pity. He felt that Krishna had left him, and as a result, he lost all his valor. Arjuna, the great hero, now became weak and unable to accomplish even the smallest tasks. When Arjuna was bringing the surviving women and children from Krishna's household to shelter, robbers attacked him in the forest. Arjuna tried his best to fight against them and to free the women and children from the grip of these murderous robbers; but he could not do it.


During the many battles of the Mahabharata war, Arjuna was able to fight and defeat so many great heroes. He was unconquerable, no matter the odds against him. But, the same Arjuna was not able to even vanquish the robbers in the forest and rescue the women and children who were under his protection. What was the reason for this? Until that time, with Krishna at his side, Arjuna had felt great strength. Not recognizing where that strength came from, he believed it was his own valor and his own strength that had provided the victories he was able to gain. But this delusion stemmed from ignorance. Arjuna's strength had not been his. That strength had been given to him by the divinity.


Even though a person may be endowed with divine strength, he deludes himself into thinking that the strength he has is all due to his own human capabilities. So it was with Arjuna. But, once he lost the strength of divinity, he was not able to accomplish even the smallest thing. Man has been able to undertake many types of activities because the divinity is inherent in him and has been providing all his inner strength, sustenance and power. Without this divine power, man would not be able to accomplish anything. Without the stamp of divinity not even his smallest undertakings would reach fruition. That stamp is all-important. Consider the following example.


Let us say that you have made a beautiful envelope out of heavy art paper. You have written Swami's address on it in colorful decorative script, and you have enclosed a beautiful letter, carefully written with calligraphy and adorned with striking colors. The borders of this envelope are also artfully embellished with many exquisite designs. You have inserted the letter inside the envelope, you have sealed it and posted it. Yet, despite all your great efforts and skill, the letter never reached Swami. Why is that? The reason is that you did not put a stamp on the envelope. All your decorations and all your beautiful handwriting could not help in getting that letter to Swami.


Even a letter which has been dropped in the postbox at the college hostel will not reach the temple here, less than a mile away, without a stamp. But with a stamp on it, a letter could even have traveled thousands of miles and reached its destination. The postal department will not look at all the decorations, the ornate letters, the striking colors and designs. They will not pay any attention to all your beautiful art work. They will only look at the address and check to see if the envelope has the correct stamp. So, what was most needed was for you to procure a stamp and properly place it on the envelope.


God's Grace is Earned Through Purity of the Heart


As in the example just given, God will not pay attention to all your elaborate efforts unless you have addressed your efforts correctly and have procured the stamp of divinity and affixed it onto your work. How do you obtain that stamp? Through purity of the heart. By bringing all your efforts in alignment with noble values. God does not care for all your scholarship, your accomplishments, your wealth and position. Worldly-minded people will have their eyes on that, but not God. God only looks in your heart. What is the use of earning many degrees and achieving great scholarship in a particular subject if your heart has not become purified by all your education? It is the values that you practice every day in the area of truth and honesty which will carry you through life and be your greatest asset. That is why we emphasize values so strongly in the system of education we have here at the ashram.


Would a hungry man have his hunger satisfied if you just showed him some different types of delicious food? Would a poor man be freed from poverty if he merely heard stories of great wealth? Would a sick man be cured if you just described to him the various medicines that could make him well? No. And in the same way, if you merely listened to the great teachings of the Gita you would not be able to derive much benefit from them. You have attended many discourses and you have heard many great truths expounded. Now you must put into practice at least one or two of these truths. Then you will be able to experience real joy.


For your efforts to succeed and be truly worthwhile you need the stamp of divinity. Purity of heart will earn for you that stamp. This means practicing the noble values that the Gita has been teaching. But even before these values can be put into practice you will have to control your mind and turn it one-pointedly in that direction. This can happen only if you master your senses. Therefore, the crucial lesson in all these teachings is the control of the senses. Krishna told Arjuna, "Arjuna, if you want to accomplish anything truly worthwhile in this world you must gain control over your own sense-organs." The same thing was said by Prahlada to his father, the demon-king, "Father, you have been able to conquer so many worlds but you have not achieved the real victory. You have not been able to conquer yourself!"


There Are Many Beings But Only One Underlying Divinity


If a person has not conquered his own mind and senses, how will he ever be able to taste the sweet nectar of divinity? To achieve control of the mind and senses, it is important for you to know the deeper reason for all your efforts. The ultimate goal of your life is to realize the one divinity that underlies everyone and everything. You must become established in the one atmic principle that exists in every heart.


The sun is one for everyone. There is not a separate sun for different beings and for different species in different parts of the world. There may be thousands of different vessels all filled with water, standing on the ground. Some will be earthen pots, some will be brass vessels and some will be silver or copper ones. Above them in the sky is the one sun, reflecting itself in all of these vessels. From the many reflections it would appear that there are many suns, but even though the vessels are all different and the reflections are many, the sun which is being reflected is only one. The values of the vessels will also be different; the silver vessel is very costly compared to the earthen one, nevertheless, the sun which is being reflected is one and the same.


Similarly, right from the highest scholar to the most ignorant dullard, right from the wealthiest man to the poorest beggar, from the greatest emperor to the humblest citizen, the bodies and the apparel in which they are clad will be different, but the one who is the resident of all these bodies, the atma which is reflected in all these bodies, is one and the same. The clothes that you wear and the jewelry with which you adorn yourself may be very expensive. A poor person would not be able to have such costly things. But, these are just like the differences in the value of the vessels. The divinity inside all these bodies is only one.


Once you become aware of this truth and recognize the unity in all beings, you will be able to exercise sense-control quite easily. Instead of seeking to control others you will seek control over yourself. Instead of correcting others you will take charge of your own mind and senses. Defects and faults abide in everyone. Then who is to exercise power and authority over whom? If a person has committed some mistake it may be your job to show him the right way, but your main focus should be to correct yourself. Discharge your duty, do your assigned work but always remember the one divinity resident in everyone.


Only Wisdom Can Conquer Ignorance


Ignorance is very deep. It covers your inner truth. It is impossible for you to remove this thick layer of ignorance by encountering it head-on. In the early morning at 7 o'clock, although you may be only 5 feet tall, your shadow will be 50 feet long. How can you reduce the length of this 50-foot shadow? Is it possible to fight with it? If you admonish it, will it listen to you? If you criticize it, will it be reduced? Whatever you do, its length will not come down. But as the sun goes on steadily rising, the length of the shadow diminishes automatically. Once the sun occupies the position overhead, the shadow, by itself, will have come down to your feet, obliterated itself and disappeared from view.


You may be 5 feet tall but your ignorance is 50 feet long! Therefore, you have to develop inner inquiry so that your wisdom will grow. As long as the sun of wisdom goes on rising, ignorance will go on diminishing. In this way, your ignorance can be totally destroyed. This is one method.


There is still another method for dealing with this shadow that is 50 feet long. You realize that you cannot conquer it by turning towards it and trying to run over it. You realize that by facing it, your shadow will not get any shorter or disappear from view. But, if instead of turning your face towards your shadow, you turn your face towards the sun, then your shadow will automatically be behind you, and however big it is, you will not be aware of it anymore. It will continuously remain out of sight. Therefore, instead of thinking of this ignorance, always think of the sun of wisdom. That way you keep the ignorance behind you and the sun in front of you, and you will not be affected by this shadow anymore. This means always turning your vision towards God.


Both methods should be employed. Always turn your vision towards God and use your intellectual and intuitive faculties to increase your wisdom. These are two major yogas or spiritual paths, the path of devotion and the path of wisdom. If you do not turn towards God and increase your wisdom, but continue to turn towards the world, then as with the shadow and the setting sun, your ignorance will go on increasing and you will get lost. "Therefore," Krishna warned Arjuna, "use your buddhi, your highest intelligence, to increase your wisdom. That way your ignorance will get destroyed. The moment your ignorance is destroyed, duality will vanish. When duality goes, your attraction or repulsion to sense objects will also disappear. And, once these attachments or revulsion to objects disappear, your body consciousness will also disappear. If there is no body consciousness then there is no sorrow."


Develop Wisdom Through Inner Inquiry


We have seen that if you want to overcome body-consciousness, you must first overcome your attraction or repulsion to sense objects. Once this goes, duality will be destroyed. And when duality disappears, ignorance will vanish. This will all happen when you develop wisdom. Therefore, the Gita has declared that it is through wisdom that you will be able to destroy ignorance and reach your ultimate reality.


What is this wisdom that you should develop? Can it be gained by acquiring secular knowledge in the world? No. It does not deal with external phenomena at all. It deals only with internal experience. It is only when you have developed self-confidence, confidence in the indwelling atma, that you will be able to develop a strong confidence in the Lord. If you do not believe in your self, you cannot truly believe in God. When you have faith in yourself, then you can have faith in God. To develop such a firm belief in yourself, to realize the indwelling divinity which is the same in everyone, you need to constantly engage in the practice of self-inquiry.


From the moment you get up in the morning until you go to bed at night you go on saying I, I, I, and myself and mine. But even when you say I, do you know who this I really is? You say 'this is my body', 'this is my intelligence', 'this is my inner feeling', 'these are my senses', but do you ever ask yourself, 'Who am I ?' If you never inquire into your own truth what good is all the education you have acquired? If you will not make the effort to inquire into your truth, then who else will come and remove the writing that is on your forehead? Who will remove the karma that is imprinted there? Instead of engaging yourself in self-examination, you just allow impure thoughts to enter your head, and so all your thinking becomes dull and null.


You should realize that when you say, 'this is my handkerchief', the one who is the you, is different from the object which, in this case, is the handkerchief. You say, 'this is my body'. You do not say, 'I am this body'. When you say, 'this is my body' you are declaring that you and the body are different and separate from each other. If you then inquire who is this you who is saying this, then you will be led to the indweller. You must inquire who this indweller is, in other words, who is owning all these things. Only when there is an owner can there be any meaning in saying 'this is my property, this is my land'. Only the master who owns the property has the right to say 'this property is mine'. For the body-mind this master is the indweller. This master will not undergo any change. He will never leave you. Therefore, by means of inner inquiry, you should try to discover and recognize this unchanging indwelling divinity which is your true reality.


Every spiritual aspirant should take up inner inquiry. In all your spiritual practices that you engage in, you should spend three fourths of your time on self-inquiry. Then you will get the full results. Only by using your time properly, by sanctifying your body and by sanctifying all your actions, will you be able to reach the goal. The most important reason for all these sorrows you are prone to, is the weakness you develop because your senses are not under your control. Use the strength you have to keep your senses under control. Put your mind on the right path and develop a firm resolve. You will gain great strength thereby.


The Gita declared that you should control the senses, not that you should destroy them. The Gita does not say that you should renounce action, but that you should renounce the fruit of your action. Therefore, you have to do your work. Although there is no need for the Lord to perform any particular work, you will find that he is working all the time. If he is working constantly, should you not be working also?


Perform your work and use all your senses correctly. Use them within the proper limits for the purposes for which they were intended. Do not ever use them in the wrong way. This is the message of the Gita.


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